Well, it appears the Toronto Maple Leafs have “fixed” their hole at centre, luring mercenary Jerred Smithson out of retirement limbo and onto his fourth National Hockey League club in the last three seasons.
No, that’s not a typo, and no, Smithson is exactly the wrong kind of player you want to look at when you’re thinking about adding an experienced centreman. Smithson hasn’t played above 12 minutes a game since the 2010-2011 season, and over the last two seasons has been hockey’s worst offensive producer among forwards by an absolute longshot.
Obviously, “offence” isn’t what the team needs at this point, but I’d have to think that there are players available that may not have the work experience resumé of Smithson, but a little bit more potential to be more than a stop-gap. The issue I have with this move is not related to the fact that on August 3rd, I brought up Smithson’s name when Travis Yost asked who might be the NHL’s worst regular player, it’s that it’s wildly uncreative and expected and symbolic of a team that favours tradition over creativity or substance. Look at Justin Bourne’s reaction to that tweet. “In the NHL based off of pure perception.”
It’s stuff like this:
Carlyle: “We’ve got to get back to more a workmanlike game versus the cute game”
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) November 6, 2013
At practice, Carlyle stressed need to dump puck in more effectively & not commit TOs on o-side of neutral zone & just inside o-blueline
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) November 6, 2013
For a while, it looked like the NHL was going to force retirement on Smithson. The general manager that acquired Smithson at last year’s trading deadline was fired 12 days later, before he could make another move. It’s not like the acquisition of Smithson was what placed the Oilers in or out of the postseason, but it’s just remarkable how poor his numbers were.
I don’t know if it’s fair to judge Smithson on defence, because he’s played for some remarkably bad teams in the last year, but I think it is fair to point out that he at or near the bottom of the league in almost every conceivable offensive category. This isn’t like Jay McClement, a player that pots relatively few points because he’s on the fourth line.
No. Even Jay McClement was a respectable 225th in points per 60 minutes among forwards between 2011 and 2013. He was around the level of Brooks Laich, Zack Smith, Brandon Sutter and Alex Burmistrov. No stars, but remarkably useful players.
Smithson, though? 272nd out of 272 forwards with at least 1000 minutes played, just below Darroll Powe and Eric Belanger.
Now, there’s a long history of some reclamation projects turning back into NHL players over recent years. Mike Santorelli is a good example from this season, as is T.J. Galiardi. Both players are settling into their new organizations well after wandering the desert. Smithson, though, is 34 years old and has a career high 39 points. In junior. As an overage player. His NHL career high is 16 points, back in 2008.
Sure, Smithson could be a piece if all you wanted was a fourth line that didn’t play, but a few specialists instead. Smithson can take the odd draw, kill penalties effectively and is probably a good guy in the room. He’ll do all the things that coaches love, but unfortunately, it’s the thing that the coaches hate, like taking risks, skating without support, and hogging the puck, that lead to goals and winning at this level.
Simply put, the odds that Smithson’s defensive game is valuable enough to make up for the fact that he’s the worst offensive forward in the NHL is pretty slim. The odds that Smithson becomes a plus offensive player in the short time he’ll be with the team is very slim. It’s just a missed opportunity. With David Bolland out of the lineup, the team needed to replace offence as well as defence. Is this the move? Is this the centreman that the Leafs have acquired for the next 6+ games while Tyler Bozak remains out of the lineup?
It just seems lazy and easy. It’s the fourth grader pulling out the baking soda and vinegar volcano for the third straight season at the science fair because he hasn’t earned a failing grade yet. It’s wearing a fedora as a Halloween costume and making spaghetti for dinner. There’s nothing inspired or clever about the move, no creative way to save cap space, no bringing in a young player we had scouted for the 2008 Draft but he went a few picks before our turn. It’s just a move with no upside, and no reasonable chance of being surprised by an added injection of offence, or miraculously stumbling on a player that can fill in as a third liner for the remainder of the year and be “the next Jerred Smithson, only circa 2006”.
Seriously, why not claim Brett Sutter? Literally, the worst case scenario is that he turns out to be as good as Jerred Smithson.
I’m not writing this because I have something personal against Smithson or because I’m determined that every move the Leafs make is awful. I’ve written about Smithson in the past, and followed the coverage and snark as Smithson went to Edmonton last deadline. Oiler blogger Benjamin Massey at the time said the deal “isn’t the nadir, obviously, but it’s still one for the Scrapbook of Tambicakes Incompetence.”
Photo Courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com